The BMW i3 electric car is the world’s most efficient production vehicle to date, has been compared to the Model T Ford in terms of its revolutionary design, and is selling strongly in markets from Los Angeles to Boston and London to Frankfurt. Thanks to parent company BMW, it was even been the demonstration platform for BMW’s latest high-tech autonomous driving capabilities at last month’s CES in Las Vegas.
Now self-proclaimed automotive ‘Think Tank Mobility Lab” Rinspeed has used the BMW i3 as the base for its latest futuristic concept car, due to be unveiled this spring at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show.
As with last year’s Rinspeed XchangE concept car — which was based on the Tesla Model S electric sedan — the BMW-derived Budii ‘trans-urban SUV’ looks forward to a future where autonomous vehicles are commonplace, and the act of driving a car is a fun optional extra rather than a mandatory chore.
The resulting car is a plug-in electric vehicle which closely resembles a BMW i3 from a distance, but is packed with the kind of concepts and ideas that may woo audiences today but we’re sure will one day make our ancestors laugh with derision at how wrong we were about our visions of the future.
Inside the reengineered car, there’s very little from the stock BMW i3 left. Instead of the usual minimalist dashboard and feature-packed steering wheel, a seven-axis robotic arm extends from just behind the drivers’ pedals holding a simple yet elegant steering wheel. Using a drive-by-wire system, this makes it possible for the steering wheel to fold away when not in use, moving to a central location behind the massive Tesla-like touch-screen centre console for the daily autonomously-driven work commute.
The wheel can also be transferred from side to side, making it easy for two people to share driving duties on a long trip or to swap driver and passenger positions over when crossing between mainland Europe and the UK.
Alongside ‘cognitive and intuitive’ autonomous driving technology which Rinspeed predicts will communicate with other cars on the road, taking information from its surroundings and transmitting them to other vehicles along the route to help traffic flow and improve the passenger experience , Rinspeed says the Budii is packed with the latest in-car entertainment technology.
At the top of that list includes a high quality Harman Kardon HD music system, a high-bandwidth Internet connection, and of course, full bluetooth and wifi compatibility. Operating alongside a smartphone app and smartwatch app, the concept car also previews a world where there’s a seamless integration between our car and the rest of our online connected world.
There’s even a double wireless charging dock in the centre console, allowing the car to wirelessly charge smartphones and tablets without the need for a snake of cables. In place of the rear seats meanwhile, there’s a pair of folding segway-like scooters which extend out from the car on robotic arms to provide ‘last mile’ transport to the car’s occupants in inner city environments.
You’ll remember that we commented at the start of the article that the Budii looks very much like a standard BMW i3 from a distance, albeit one wearing custom wheels, air suspension, and a massive body kit.
Look a little closer however, and you’ll note the strange camera and 3D laser scanner mounted on the end of a telescopic arm on the roof of the car. When activated, the telescopic arm allows the Budii and its occupants to get a clearer, higher-view of the road ahead and can be deployed in either autonomous or manual control modes.
Meanwhile, the rear tailgate is fitted with a massive digital LED panel taking over the duties of conventional lights, allowing the rear of the car to communicate messages with other road users, provide ambient lighting when parked and of course, function as conventional vehicular lights.
At the front, a similar panel mounted in the grille offers a side-to-side flashing light that’s more than a little reminiscent of KITT in 1980s TV series, while the doors do away with traditional handles in preference for touch-panels on each of the rear suicide doors.
As always, Rinspeed has no intention to manufacture the Budii. Instead, its focus is to demonstrate some of the technologies being developed by various third-party automotive companies and tier-one suppliers in a vehicle that gives a hint at what’s possible in the near future. Only technology being actively developed or already available is included too, so while the Budii may not be able to actually do everything it claims at the current time, it is still based on cutting-edge, in-development technology rather than the whimsical dreaming of a non-technological futurist.
Would we like one? Well, there are certainly some interesting ideas in the Budii that we wouldn’t mind getting to grips with. But as for a practical every day driver?
We think the Budii is about as useful for the daily school run as Rinspeed’s wonderfully over-the-top sQuba car from a few years back. But it certainly would get some glances in the playground.
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